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So Long as Men Can Breathe: The Untold Story of Shakespeare's Sonnets Hardcover – May 26, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Edition edition (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780306818059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818059
  • ASIN: 0306818051
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 5.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #982,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In May 1609, Thomas Thorpe published what are now the best-known examples of their kind ever written. In an age that loved long titles, Thorpe felt a two-word title, Shake-speare’s Sonnets, would sell the book. Bingo, but a second printing never happened, and from that day to this, the sonnets and the long poem appended to them, “A Lover’s Complaint,” have been constantly controversial. Who gave them to Thorpe? Who wrote their inferior appendix? Who are they all about? Heylin, the world’s foremost (Bob) Dylanologist, says that the reason for all the analyzing, conjecturing, and feuding is that Thorpe’s publication was a bookleg—like a bootleg recording, something that wasn’t supposed to be put into public trade. It was probably suppressed because it had to be rediscovered 100 years later, after which the fur really flew. Tracing the centuries of bio-biblio hugger-mugger roused by Thorpe’s simple attempt to make a killing, Heylin produces such an enthralling account (despite the steady blizzard of obscure names) that no ardent Shakespearean will cry, “Hold! Enough!” --Ray Olson

Review

Kirkus Reviews, 4/15/09
“[Heylin has] done his homework and presents in often frisky language some convincing answers to questions that have perplexed scholars for centuries. Did Shakespeare approve the publication of these intimate poems? Who was the ‘W.H.’ of the dedication? Who were the real-life prototypes for the Dark Lady, the Fair Youth and the Rival Poet? Did he write those last two weak Cupid sonnets? Or ‘A Lover’s Complaint,’ that long boring poem published with the Sonnets? Heylin demonstrates a scholar’s diligence…Will not endear Heylin to academics, but does disperse some smoke while fanning the flames of this fiery debate.”

Booklist, 5/1/09
“Heylin produces such an enthralling account…that no ardent Shakespearean will cry, ‘Hold! Enough!’”

Roanoke Time, 4/26/09
“Heylin draws an interesting comparison between William Shakespeare and Bob Dylan, ‘a singer-poet’ himself…The book is also well-referenced, and the sonnets themselves are included, which helps greatly. Lovers of Shakespeare's work as well as historians will benefit from Heylin's definitive work.”

Library Journal, 6/1/09
““With clear prose and an obvious love for his subject, Heylin here celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's sonnets…A literary detective story…that will interest all lovers of Shakespeare and literature.”

Bookpage.com, June 2009
“[A] riveting account of the tangled publication history of one of our literature’s most famous, and infamously mysterious, volumes…Heylin applies his encyclopedic mental database of the ways and means of bootlegging with a scholarly but entirely unstuffy zeal, revealing in the bargain commonsensical answers to the questions the sonnets have provoked for centuries…Every imaginable question raised by every subsequent edition of the Sonnets is taken on by Heylin, and answered with passion and substance.”

Los Angeles Times, Jacket Copy Blog, 5/20/09
“As to why this is important, partly it's a matter of historical curiosity, because the provenance of the Sonnets has long been questioned, as has the identity of the ‘fair youth’ to whom they were addressed…But more to the point, it has to do with the line between public and private art, between what writers (or singers) create for public consumption and what they create for themselves.”

Infodad.com, 6/18/09
“Heylin does a fine job exploring the hurlyburly of the 17th-century publishing netherworld…The rogues’ gallery of publishing pirates contains some entertaining characters, and Heylin’s generally bright style makes many of the characters’ adventures and misadventures enjoyable to follow.”

PlayShakespeare.com
“Engaging and irreverent…Takes readers inside this early 17th-century milieu of poets, patrons, scribes, and the rampant bootlegging of manuscripts…[A] pithy study that should intrigue both armchair sonnet enthusiasts and professional scholars.”

January, 7/15/09
“It is a testament to Heylin’s art and skill that not only do we sense the presence of the living, breathing Bard in So Long As Men Can Breathe, we also feel the connections between a beleaguered 17th century publishing industry and the one we’re saddled with today. Heylin’s vision is both eye-opening and entertaining. You’ve never seen the publishing industry in this light. You’ve never seen Shakespeare in quite this light. But in the same book? This is one that can’t be missed.”

Miluakee Shepherd Express, 7/16/09
“Aside from deflating a great many theories on Shakespeare's work, Heylin draws interesting comparisons between the manuscript ‘bookleggers’ of Shakespeare's time and the rock tape bootleggers of the '70s and '80s.”

PopMatters.com, 7/22/09
“[Heylin] brings a fresh voice to the long debate regarding Shakespeare’s sonnets…A concise, well-researched, and accessible account of Shakespeare’s sonnets and the long history of literary debate about the sequence’s origins and meaning…Heylin’s easy tone reminds us that Shakespeare was, and perhaps still is, a part of popular culture…It’s entirely refreshing to read about Shakespeare without the hushed tone of literary sanctity, while preserving the rigors of good research...If Shakespeare makes some readers shudder with memories of high school textual surgery, the author is an approachable guide to the story behind the poetry and its many editions.”

Bookviews blog, August 2009
“A very interesting story.”

Augusta Metro Spirit, 9/9 “A breathtaking account of the Sonnets…Heylin offers a stunning look at a literary mystery…They may be some of the greatest love poems of all time, but within the pages of Heylin’s latest exploration readers have the opportunity to learn that the Sonnets themselves are only the beginning of the story.”

Choice, October 2009 issue
“Offers a tantalizing examination of the role of the Stationers’ Company and the perils of copyright ownership in the 17th century…An interesting review of the publication history of Sonnets, from early private circulation of the poems to the present century.”

Magill Book Review, October 2009
“A fascinating, scholarly and thorough history of Shakespeare’s sonnets from 1590 to 2009. Nothing ever written about William Shakespeare and his works is without controversy; nor will this volume escape controversy. Clinton Heylin has taken on one of the most controversial subjects in this stellar, painstaking book."

Reference and Research Book News, November 2009
“This new angle on the sonnets and the background to their publication is intriguing and worth including in any Shakespeare library.”

Midwest Book Review
“Highly entertaining, educational, and recommended reading.”

History magazine, Feb/March 2010
“Reveals the untold story of some of the most famous poems in English.”


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Customer Reviews

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He is in a way a good investigative journalist in an era that sorely needs them.
John Broglio
Heylin's argument is convincing that the sonnets published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe were "booklegged" -- to the great advantage of the world's future generations.
Helen Heightsman Gordon, Ed. D.
I would, however, have liked to have read a lot more about who Mr. Heylin thinks the Dark Lady might have been.
Randy Kadish

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Randy Kadish on January 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I would describe Mr. Heylin's book as more than just a well-researched history of Shakespeare's sonnets and of theories about how and why they were published. One of the author's key premises is that the bootlegging of manuscripts in Elizabethan times, like the bootlegging of rock music today, was common. He then argues convincingly, in my opinion, that the sonnets were not authorized, and then may have even been suppressed after publication by powerful friends of Shakespeare. (The sonnets almost certainly caused a scandal.)

Also, Mr. Heylin makes the case that William Herbert was probably the so-called "Fair Youth" of the sonnets, and also paints a vivid picture of the world of copywriting - if we can call it that - and of book publishing in Shakespeare's time. The author then takes us on an historical journey about the republication of the sonnets, and about how they were forgotten for almost two hundred years until they were rediscovered, finally, by the Romantic poets.

Finally, Mr. Heylin puts forth a theory about who many have given Thorpe a manuscript copy of the sonnets. While I think the theory is a bit of a stretch, it does provide interesting historical information about Elizabethan literary life.

If you're interested in Shakespeare's sonnets, I think this book is a must.
So Long As Man Can Breath is, for the most part, easy reading, almost as easy as a good detective novel. That is partly because the book has little critical analysis of the sonnets. (There is so much analysis elsewhere that readers shouldn't be disappointed.) I would, however, have liked to have read a lot more about who Mr. Heylin thinks the Dark Lady might have been.

Then again, so many of our questions about Shakespeare's sonnets will never be answered, but Mr. Heylin's fair and balanced book brings us much closer to the truth.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Broglio on December 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was mainly interested in Heylin's information about the original publication of the Sonnets. They were put out in the summer of 1609 and vanished: no second printing, no records of suppression or bankruptcy. As with the plays, it is a miracle that we have so many sonnets since their original small press run seems to have been an accident -- or a petty crime.

But Heylin's history of the Sonnets' publication and of the passionate debates about the possible "muses" is even more fascinating. Heylin has opinions about some of the issues in the sonnet debate and he is not shy about throwing cold water on the enthusiasms of people he disagrees with. His great contribution is to juxtapose sonnet scholarship throughout the centuries in a way that lets the reader conclude for herself that most scholars are much further out on a limb than they would have you believe.

I would recommend reading this book after you have read the Sonnets, of course, and at least one other article or book about the Sonnets (even the introduction to the Penguin or Oxford edition qualifies). If some writer has persuaded you that s/he knows who the Fair Youth or Dark Lady was, you are more than ready for this "meta-analysis". It will innoculate you against hand-waving and proof by intimidation at least in the Sonnet universe. Along the way Heylin gives you a tour of the theories that is thorough and fascinating.

As an appendix, the sonnets are printed six to a page. My greatest regret is that they were not printed as far as possible in the original spelling and punctuation. (Helen Vendler's deeply disappointing book on the Sonnets is still in my possession only because of the reproduction of the original spelling of every sonnet.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on August 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The sonnets of Shakespeare are renowned as the very best in the world. "So Long as Men Can Breathe: The Untold Story of Shakespeare's Sonnets" tells of the publishing industry in a time long past, when copyright laws were simply unheard of. Relating the saga of Shakespeare, his publishers and peers, and the chaos surrounding the process of getting books published during the era, "So Long As Men Can Breathe" is highly entertaining, educational, and recommended reading.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is an extended study concerning the printing history of the Sonnets; very little of the book, however, concerns itself with the sonnets themselves, or for that matter, Shakespeare's personal history.
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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Helen Heightsman Gordon, Ed. D. on August 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just wrote several paragraphs of praise for Mr. Heylin's book, only to have them disappear when I tried to edit a line.
So I'll just say that I concur with the previous reviewers about the book's lively style, broad coverage, and authoritative
tone. Heylin's argument is convincing that the sonnets published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe were "booklegged" -- to the great
advantage of the world's future generations.
I enjoyed the discussion of pro-and-con points regarding the identity of the "Fair Youth," but I am not convinced that
the Fair Youth was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Although Heylin's portrait of the "other will" is entertaining, it isn't
clear that he was as "wild" as Heylin assumes, or that this would have been a factor in the personality revealed in the first
17 sonnets.
It's understandable that Heylin adopts unquestioningly the conventional assumptions that Shakespeare was a commoner
addressing an earl far above him in rank, but that does not disqualify Southampton, and the theory that these sonnets were a
work-for-hire is weak, since there is no evidence that the Countess of Pembroke -- a fine poet herself, and the sister of Philip
Sidney -- would have needed to pay for any poetic assistance from an unproven new talent.
It would have been to Heylin's advantage to consider some of the non-Stratfordian theories, such as that of Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn(authors of the De Vere biography "This Star of England") that Southampton was the natural son of Queen Elizabeth and her favorite court playwright, Edward De Vere. That would explain why it was so important for the Fair Youth to get married and reproduce.
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